From fiction to reality: B. F. Skinner, “Walden Two”, and the Twin Oaks intentional community's attempted realization of the dream
B. F. Skinner conducted pioneering work on experimental psychology and advocated behaviorism, the study of observable and quantifiable aspects of behavior and excludes subjective phenomena, such as emotions or motives. Skinner wrote a number of controversial works in which he proposed the use of behavioral modification techniques in order to improve society.
One book focused on social engineering was Walden Two, Skinner's only work of fiction, and the center of much controversy ever since its publication in 1948. In Walden Two, Skinner describes a utopian community of 1,000 inhabitants, based on the principles of behaviorism. The community does not encourage consumerism or competition. Operant conditioning is used in the rearing of children. The community is egalitarian and members have plenty of time, with their four-hour workday, to focus on creativity, the building of social relationships, and personal happiness.
Skinner was accused of using his behavioral engineering techniques to brainwash individuals into enjoying being conditioned, denying them the freedom of a creative and purposeful mind, and depriving them of personal dignity. Many people felt threatened by the belief that Skinner eliminated the distinction between animals and humans and sought to rob people of the distinctly human traits that made life worth living.
In the 1960's, with the rise of the counterculture movement, Skinner's book became somewhat of a bible, inspiring disenchanted youth wishing to free themselves from rigidly defined roles and hierarchical standards. Many, inspired by Timothy Leary's dictate, "Turn on, tune in, and drop out" withdrew from society's established system to create alternative communities. One such community, Twin Oaks, in Virginia was formed in 1967 and is one of the largest nonreligious intentional community still in existence today. Twin Oaks was inspired by B. F. Skinner's book, Walden Two, its original members devoted to implementing Skinner's ideas of behaviorism.
This dissertation explores B. F. Skinner's life, the motivation behind his writing of Walden Two, an explanation of his behavioral ideas as applied to his fictional utopia, and Twin Oak's attempt at Skinner's vision. A number of Skinner's theories, as presented in Walden Two , are explored in depth and a comparison is made as to whether his ideas were successful in a real-life situation, including the rearing of children, government, self-industry, labor, feminism, happiness, and self-sufficiency.
It was discovered that Skinner's behavioristic principles were largely abandoned within the first five years of Twin Oaks' existence and the "behaviorists" have left. While Twin Oaks no longer considers themselves a "Walden Two Community," similarities between the two communities are explored. Both Twin Oaks and Walden Two are egalitarian, income-sharing communities, which run on a communal economic system and earn their income based on community-operated businesses. Skinner's influence can still be seen in Twin Oaks through its government, sharing of resources, communication, and use of positive reinforcement.
0451: Social psychology